There is a switch in my kitchen, next to the main light for our dining area. (Sort of a breakfast nook, really, but one in which we do not discriminate against non-breakfast meals.) This switch does not seem to do anything. It is hooked up to power; I have opened the cover and stuck one of those little power sensing things in it. You know the ones. They go “beep!” when you touch a live power source, thereby saving you the trouble of testing for the presence of electricity with your tongue.
This switch vexes me. I have no idea what it does. I have tried everything. I have sent family members to all corners of the house to see if any lights turn on or off when I flip the switch.
“Anything yet?” I yell.
“No,” comes the reply. “Can I go now?”
“Just two more rooms!” I say, and curse the existence of this mystery switch.
I have vivid fantasies of a house in the Ural mountains, where a ghost lamp in the far corner of a den goes bright and dim based on the flipping of my kitchen switch in Savage, Minnesota. There is a man in the den who curses in Russian (which is the best language in which to curse), and throws down his evening newspaper in a huff.
Easily solvable unsolved mysteries
My problem has solutions. I could hire someone to trace the route of the switch, and help me to determine if it has some secret purpose. That’s a phone call I don’t look forward to making however. Like many men, I like to appear somewhat knowledgeable in the face of a tradesman’s expertise. But I can’t imagine hiring an electrician with anything other than the God’s honest truth:
“Hi, is this Larry’s Electrical? Yes. Hello, Larry. What’s my problem? Well… I have a switch in my dining area… no, not really a dining room, per se. More of a breakfast… at any rate, I’ve got this live electrical switch which doesn’t seem to do anything.
“Yes, I’ve tested for electricity. It is most certainly live. How do I know? I’ve got one of those… you know, tester thingies, with a light and a ‘beeep!’ and everything.
“Uh huh. Yes, I know I would have to pay you to find out where it goes. It’s gotten to that point, Larry. I can’t sleep at night. Also, I’m worried that it’s attached to den in the Ural mountains, but that’s another matter. Hello? Larry?”
Looking a gift switch in the mouth
So, perhaps it is better not to know where the switch leads. What’s the harm? There are actual problems with my house that need attention. My deck in the backyard wants demolishing. I need to replace the window casings due to dry rot (which is different from wet rot in ways that I do not understand). My lawn needs mowing. But what do I think about? This mystery switch, which is hurting no one and is not a pressing issue in any way.
But there we are. Houses are like this. No matter how perfect or imperfect, one or two glaring mysteries draw the eye. Why is that door swinging the wrong way? Why do the lights flicker when I turn on the toaster? Who decided that carpet in the bathroom was a good idea? We have these negotiations with our living spaces, not knowing why.
Of course, this is a problem that I’m lucky to enjoy. Home ownership is a privilege, is it not? Still, I don’t want to spend hours sleeping on a bench just to get my mind off of the mystery switch in the kitchen, dining nook thing. That would be selfish of me.
And so the mystery carries on, unsolved. What time is it in the Urals? Perhaps I should telegraph a “hello” to my long-distance friends.